The Ambassador in Italy (Long) to the Secretary of State
ROME, September 28, 1934.
[Received October 11.]
I have the honor to refer to my despatch No. 721 of September 21, 1934, enclosing a Memorandum of conversations in connection with Italy's relations with Abyssinia, and to enclose herewith the copy of a Memorandum of another conversation on the same subject.21
There have been current in Italy--in all parts of Italy--for some time rumors to the effect that Italy contemplated warlike activity there. These rumors are generally to the following effect: that the Ministries of War, Air, Marine, Finance and Colonies were cooperating; that they had agreed upon an expenditure of two billion lire; that the Treasury had made provision for it in its budget; that military reinforcements specifically and variously stated to amount to 100,000 men, 200,000 men, and 250,000 men had been allocated for transfer there; that large and varying quantities of supplies, equipment, had been or were being or were about to be sent; that tanks, air bombs, machine guns, barbed wire, airplanes, hangars, small tanks, small bore artillery, horses and mules had been and were being sent.
It was specifically reported that on September 26th there would be sent to Eritrea or Somalia a large military expedition. I wrote each Consul at a seaport and asked him to watch his harbor and the movement there on that date. Naples reported 200 mules and 20 armored cars had left the week before but no shipments on the 26th. It also reported the rumor that 100,000 men had sailed from Brindisi September 24th but the Consul General agrees that the rumor is fantastic. Naples also reports that on or about the first of September the S.S. Caffaro of the Tirrenan Line sailed for its regular run down the east coast of Africa with 4000 tons of munitions of war and 30 or 40 army ambulances on deck.
Trieste reported that "several weeks ago" all local shipping companies were instructed to advise the Captain of the Port when any of their ships finished discharging cargo and any space was free. Also that the three vessels of the Lloyd Triestino Line, the Himalaya, Tergestea, and Fujiyama, on the Far Eastern run, all of which touch at Massaua, received instructions in August to include Taranto as a port of call. There is no commercial cargo to be loaded there. I would like to send someone to Taranto to spend a week or more for observation purposes, but an officer of the American Government would not be a proper person to send.
Trieste also reports an order for 500,000 sun helmets to have been recently placed in Milan and the rumor that France has granted a war loan of 5,000,000 francs.
It is also reported General Badoglio is to command the expeditionary forces.
Leghorn reported that everything was normal there and at Pisa except the ubiquitous rumors about Italy's preparations for Abyssinian war.
Genoa reported that the S.S. Dandolo, sailing September 26th for Port Said, Suez, Massaua, and Indian ports, is leaving with little cargo, including a number of large cases very possibly containing a couple of hangars and airplane spare parts, as well as two or three hundred boxes, small and very heavy, marked "Wire Nails", apparently of Swiss origin and addressed to Bassorah and Madras; that "It is reported that the S.S. Francesco Crispi, which sailed September 5th from Massaua, etc., and the Guiseppe Mazzini on her last voyage for the same ports, carried hangars as part of their cargoes. It is rumored that the S.S. Caffaro and Casaregis are expected to embark locomotives, rolling stock, ammunition and Red Cross supplies at Naples. According to rumors which have been going around Genoa for the past three or four weeks, the 'banana boats', which used to make their outward voyages quite empty, are now leaving this port with good cargoes of airplanes, hangars, motor trucks and munitions said to be intended for Massaua. It is stated by sources believed to be reliable that the Fiat Company is manufacturing a large number of small motor lorries, all to be shipped to Massaua and Italian Somalia."
That preparations of an unusual sort are under way as regards the Italian East African Colonies of Eritrea and Italian Somalia is fairly well established in my mind. That they relate to Abyssinia I accept as quite possible. However, I do not think the Italians will begin an unprovoked attack against Abyssinia. They may try to arrange a "defensive" war, or may be so "provoked" by "depredations" or by "unruly tribes" as to start a punitive expedition which will gradually develop into a penetration. Or they may, as I think most likely, try to stir up dissension in the ranks of Ras Taffari and help one of his opponents with the idea of placing on the throne a successful rival who will receive the protection of Italy . . .
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21. Not printed.